The NYCLU today warned the Toys R Us company that it had violated civil rights law by telling a mother that she could not breastfeed her infant in a store.
A saleswoman approached Chelsi Meyerson after she began to breastfeed her seven-month-old son in an out-of-the-way section of the Toys R Us store on 42nd Street in Manhattan, where she was shopping with her family. The saleswoman informed Meyerson that she was not "allowed" to breastfeed in the store unless she moved to the basement, and that her breastfeeding was "inappropriate" because there were "children around." When Meyerson asserted that she was in the right and refused to move, four more store employees harassed her, and the original saleswoman called security.
"Breastfeeding is not a crime, and the right to breastfeed is simply not a right that I am willing to give up," Meyerson said. "This incident was humiliating and dismaying. I'm asking Toys R Us to guarantee that it will never happen again."
The NYCLU sought a meeting with Toys R Us officials; an apology; appropriate compensation for Meyerson; and a written guarantee that Toys R Us would permit breastfeeding in its stores and would train its staff about the policy.
"It's ironic that a store that caters to children would prohibit a mother from doing what is best for her child," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. "One would think that Toys R Us would have moved past the puritanical notions that this incident reflects."
Added Galen Sherwin, Staff Attorney for the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project: "This is about public health, not public morality."
Twelve years ago the New York Civil Liberties Union lobbied for and secured the passage of a law that specifically establishes the right of all New York mothers to breastfeed in public. That statute, a section of New York State's Civil Rights Law, provides that "a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be."
"Prohibiting public breastfeeding is bad public health policy -- and it's also against the law," said Elisabeth Benjamin, NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project Director. "Health care providers and the law agree that families who choose to breastfeed their children should be able to do so whenever and wherever necessary."